Complete exegesis which reveals the actual
meaning of this, the most misunderstood poem in all literature. Its beauty and
truth shines forth when read and understood from the viewpoint of the Model
developed in this book.
following criticisms are taken from the late, and dearly missed, John Spencer Hill, A Coleridge Companion:
Thomas Moore, writing in the
Edinburgh Review (Sep 1816), tartly asserted that "the thing now before us, is
utterly destitute of value" and he defied "any man to point out a
passage of poetical merit" in it...
"The poem itself is
below criticism", declared the anonymous reviewer in the Monthly Review
William Hazlitt claimed that Xanadu demonstrated that "Mr.
Coleridge can write better nonsense verses than any man in England"
John Livingston Lowes:
"For Kubla Khan is as near
enchantment, I suppose, as we are like to come in this dull world." While one may track or attempt to track
individual images to their sources, Kubla Khan as a whole remains
utterly inexplicable -- a "dissolving phantasmagoria" of highly
charged images whose streaming pageant is, in the final analysis, "as
aimless as it is magnificent"
Elisabeth Schneider, too,
suggests that a good part of the poem's charm and power derives from the fact
that it is invested with "an air of meaning rather than meaning
The first and, for over a
hundred years, almost the only reader to insist on the intelligibility and
coherence of Kubla Khan was Shelley's novel-writing friend, Thomas Love
Peacock: "there are",
he declared in 1818, "very few specimens of lyrical poetry so plain, so
consistent, so completely simplex et unum from first to last". Perhaps wisely, Peacock concluded his
fragmentary essay with these words, thereby sparing himself the onerous task of
explaining the consistency and meaning of so plain a poem as Kubla Khan.
More recent commentators,
however, have been much bolder. In the
criticism of the last fifty years one may distinguish, broadly, four major
approaches to Kubla Khan: (1)
interpretations of it as a poem about the poetic process; (2) readings
of it as an exemplification of aspects of Coleridgean aesthetic theory;
(3) Freudian analyses; and (4) Jungian interpretations. While
recent critics concur in finding a symbolic substructure in Kubla Khan,
there is little agreement among them as to how that symbolism should be
I totally agree with Peacock. To me, the meaning of the heart of the poem
is obvious. This poem is a love song to
Sophia, the Mother Goddess, Isis, the very Earth we live in (not on!), who is
alive to her most hidden recesses. Any
theosopher would also quickly see to the heart of the metaphor. Not only is the poem beautiful, it is also
reverent and erotic, and illustrative of the light and dark sides of
First, I would like you to take careful note that the historical Kublai
Khan was impressed by the Tibetan monks, and made Phagspa, lama of a Buddhist order,
a member of his entourage. Phagspa
bestowed on Kublai and his wife a Tantric Buddhist initiation!
For convenience in this exegesis, I have separated the poem
into parts, and will treat each part in turn:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome
Where Alph, the sacred river,
Through caverns measureless
Down to a sunless sea.
An ordinary man ordered the
pleasure-dome, as if Nature, the divinely produced pleasure-dome, were not
enough. Alph (as in Alpha & Omega)
is the source of life, but the sunless sea is where Kubla built.
So twice five miles of
With walls and towers were
girdled round :
And there were gardens bright
with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an
incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient
as the hills, Enfolding
sunny spots of greenery.
He built his paradise, but walled it off, as
earls of the land have always done. This
was Kubla's attempt to create a home-made paradise. But he made nothing, all the goodness was
already there. He just selfishly sealed
it off as if to exclude the rabble.
But oh ! that deep romantic
chasm which slanted Down the green hill athwart a
cedarn cover ! A savage place ! as holy and
enchanted As e'er beneath a waning moon
was haunted By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
This is nothing less than the sexual heart of
Sophia, the Mother Goddess. The metaphor
of the Vulva as savage, and holy, and enchanted. Shows extreme desire. Their last union was under the full moon, which is now waning, and she is wailing for her sorely missed lover to
return. Demon does not mean Satanic, only non-corporeal. Coleridge needed four exclamation points for
And from this chasm, with
ceaseless turmoil seething, As if this earth in fast
thick pants were breathing, A mighty fountain momently was forced : Amid whose swift
half-intermitted burst Huge fragments vaulted like
rebounding hail, Or chaffy grain beneath the
thresher's flail : And 'mid these dancing rocks
at once and ever It flung up momently the sacred river.
This is a blow-by-blow metaphor of a mighty Holy
Orgasm, the result of which is the sacred river of life. This is a myth of creation. At once and ever means this did not happen
long ago in the dim past, but is a continuous happening then, now, and
forever. Momently means from moment to moment, that is, continuously. Coleridge probably needed to
smoke a cigarette, or more likely opium, after this part.
Five miles meandering with a
Through wood and dale the
sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns
measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
Meandering (seemingly aimless) with a mazy
motion. The maze seems aimless, but it is completely goal-oriented, and leads
to the prize at the center if you know how to follow it correctly. The ocean is lifeless, as all life is
bestowed by the sacred river. Compare
this with "darkness wasupon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters"
And 'mid this tumult Kubla
heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
The shadow of the dome of
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled
From the fountain and the
It was a miracle of rare
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !
The evil to come (war) is from man, bringing his
ignorance to the paradise of Sophia, the Mother Goddess. Here is a man-made attempted imitation of
paradise. On the surface, a sunny
pleasure-dome, but at its core, lifeless and cold as ice.
A damsel with a dulcimer In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she
Singing of Mount Abora.
Coleridge had a vision, a common peak experience
among mystics. The damsel is from Abyssinia, in its time the oldest state in the world, where the
earliest ancestors to the human species were discovered. It is also evocative
of the Goddess singing from the abyss.
Originally, the line read Mount Amora, thus singing of love, but perhaps Coleridge thought
that would be too heavy-handed, and kept his subtlety slightly more hidden.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight
'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
It was so beautiful, that Coleridge desired to
build his own paradise; not actually on earth, but in his dreams. However, he can't quite evoke the memory of
his former opium-induced vision. More likely, it is virtually impossible to recall, much less describe, visions perceived in the second attention, peak experiences, or mystic epiphanies.
And all who heard should see
And all should cry, Beware !
His flashing eyes, his
floating hair !
Weave a circle round him
And close your eyes with holy
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
"Them" refers to the God the Mother,
the personification of Earth, and God the Father, the Creator and Her
lover. Coleridge is in holy awe at this
vision of the Creation. This is so
evocative of Masonic and similar rituals of ancient and modern Mystery Schools, where a blindfolded initiate is led
thrice around the Holy altar. The flashing eyes and floating hair is also evocative of angelic and other non-corporeal entities who live in Paradise.
is interesting to note how Shakespeare described a similar metaphor in Venus
and Adonis, where she is "red and hot as coals of glowing fire",
"trembling in her passion", with the reluctant Adonis in her arms:
'Fondling,' she saith, 'since I have hemm'd thee
Within the circuit of this ivory pale,
I'll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale;
my lips; and if those hills be dry,
lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.
'Within this limit is relief enough,
Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain,
Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,
To shelter thee from tempest and from rain
my deer, since I am such a park;
shall rouse thee, though a thousand bark.'
"pleasant fountains", "sweet bottom-grass", "high
delightful plain", and "round rising hillocks" are easily and
erotically read. How more obvious could
Coleridge's "deep, romantic chasm with ceaseless turmoil seething"